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January 16, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8499

Russia This Week – Focus On Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Address And Russia's Bilateral Relations – January 16, 2020

January 16, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8499

Russia This Week is a weekly review by the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project, covering the latest Russia-related news and analysis from media in Russia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Photo Of The Week


(Source: Kremlin.ru)

In The News:

  • The Russian Government Resigned After Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Address, In Which He Proposed Changes To The Constitution
  • Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Address
  • Russian Expert: A Full-Fledged US-Iran War Would Be Not So Beneficial To Russia As It May Seem
  • Russian Influential Blogger El-Murid Comments On The Ukrainian Airplane Shot Down In Iran: Not Only Iran Is Fast Becoming A Global Pariah, But Also A Kind Of A Regional Pirate Zone
  • News In Brief: Putin: 20 Years Commemorative Album

The Russian Government Resigned After Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Address, In Which He Proposed Constitutional Changes


(Source: Government.ru)

On January 15, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced that the entire government is resigning in a surprise statement released shortly after President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state-of-the-nation address.

Accepting the resignation, Putin thanked the ministers for their hard work and asked them to function as a caretaker government until a new one can be formed.

Medvedev and Putin had met for a work meeting to discuss the state-of-the-nation address earlier on Wednesday, the Kremlin said. Medvedev explained that the cabinet is resigning in accordance with Article 117 of the Russian Constitution, which states that the government can offer its resignation to the president, who can either accept or reject it.

During his speech, Putin said he intended to create the position of deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council, which would be offered to Medvedev.

(Rt.com, January 15, 2020)

Vladimir Putin has offered Acting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who resigned the prime minister's post on January 15, a new position as the deputy chair of Russia's Security Council. This will make Medvedev deputy to Putin himself: Russia's primary security law dictates that the Security Council is always chaired by the president. Medvedev's former position, meanwhile, will be occupied by Federal Tax Service head Mikhail Mishustin.

(Meduza.io, January 15, 2020)


Putin with Mikhail Mishustin. (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Medvedev In Meeting With Government Ministers: When The Amendments To The Constitution Will Be Adopted, They Will Substantially Change Not Only Many Articles Of The Constitution But Also The Balance Of Power; The Russian Government Must Give The President An Opportunity To Make All The Necessary Decisions

Soon after his speech, Putin met with members of the government. On that occasion Medvedev said:

"We have all listened to the Presidential Address. As President, Mr Putin mapped out the top priorities of our work in the country this year and formulated a whole package of fundamental amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

"When these amendments are adopted, most likely after the discussion as it was said, they will substantially change not only many articles of the Constitution but also the balance of power – executive, legislative and judicial.

"It is obvious in this context that as the Government of the Russian Federation we must give the President of this country an opportunity to make all the necessary decisions for this. Under the circumstances, it would be correct for the entire Government of the Russian Federation to resign in accordance with Article 117 of the Constitution.

"I would certainly like to thank all those that took part in the work of the current Government. Naturally, subsequent decisions will be made by the President of this country.”

(Kremlin.ru, January 15, 2020; read the full transcript)


Meeting with members of the Government. (Source: Kremlin.ru, January 15, 2020)

Political Scientist Konstantin Gaaze: Medvedev Likely 'Lost It'

Meduza.io reported: "Federation Council member Vladimir Dzhabarov has already compared Medvedev's new role to a kind of vice presidency. Nonetheless, one source close to Medvedev’s government said the acting prime minister knew nothing about Putin's planned constitutional changes or about his upcoming job change until Putin's January 15 address to the Federal Assembly.

"The two agreed to the switch only afterward during a private meeting. As a head of government, Medvedev already had an ex officio role in the Security Council, and some of the council's members retained their positions even after Medvedev and his government resigned, including former Internal Affairs Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and Sergey Ivanov, Putin’s former chief of staff.

"Two sources close to the presidential administration told Meduza that in recent months, Medvedev and Sergey Kirienko, Putin's deputy chief of staff, have been grappling for control of Russia's domestic politics. Medvedev wanted a guarantee that the United Russia party, which he leads and which dominates Russian politics nationwide, would receive a constitutional majority following the next State Duma elections, while Kirienko advocated for several new parties to be pushed into the Duma in order to create a broad pro-Putin coalition.

"Ultimately, a number of individuals loyal to Kirienko joined United Russia's leadership team. Meanwhile, governors who ran with support from Putin's administration actively worked to promote their own agenda in the State Council. Their ideas contradicted those of the federal executive branch and even criticized Medvedev's cabinet openly.

"As he resigned his prime minister's post, Medvedev said, 'We, as the government of the Russian Federation, must present the president of our country with the opportunity to make all necessary decisions, and in those circumstances, I believe that it would be right in correspondence with Article 117 of the Russian Constitution for the government of the Russian Federation in its current composition to submit its resignation.' Nonetheless, as Higher School of Economics constitutional law expert Ilya Shablinksy explained to Meduza, 'There are no legal reasons for the government's resignation' because none of the constitutional changes Putin proposed obligate the current government to yield its authority.

"Medvedev's appointment to the Security Council entails some legal obstacles. In the same security law that grants Putin the council's leadership, there is no provision establishing a role for a deputy chair. The law only provides for a chair, a secretary (currently Nikolai Patrushev), permanent members, and members…

"Exactly what powers Medvedev will have as Putin's deputy in the Security Council is also unclear. By law, the council is charged with preparing presidential decisions concerning security, foreign policy, the defense industry, and military collaboration. The Security Council's powers are exclusively advisory, but its current secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, has a reputation as one of Russia's most influential siloviki, or security and intelligence officials. At least on paper, Medvedev will be above Patrushev in the council's hierarchy. In addition, as anonymous sources have told RIA Novosti, the former prime minister will retain his current position as the head of United Russia.

"Political scientist Konstantin Gaaze believes that the decision to transfer Medvedev to the Security Council was unplanned 'because otherwise, what would the problem have been with sitting there till September, preparing a referendum [on Putin's proposed constitutional changes], and resigning after that?' Gaaze told Meduza that Medvedev likely 'lost it' and was unable to hold his ground as premier, making his new position no more than 'a golden parachute.' However, Gaaze said he could not rule out the possibility that Putin is sending Medvedev to oversee the same siloviki who have 'drunk his blood' over the last 10 years…"

(Meduza.io, January 15, 2020; read the full article)

Read More:

  • Putin nominated Mikhail Mishustin for the post of Prime Minister. (Kremlin.ru, January 15, 2020; read the full statement)
  • Russia's government has resigned. What happens now? (Meduza.io, January 15, 2020; read the full article)

Putin's State-Of-The-Nation Address


(Source: Kremlin.ru)

On January 15, Putin delivered the Address to the Federal Assembly that focused on demography, combatting poverty and constitutional change.

:Putin Proposes Constitutional Change: Requirements Of International Law And Treaties As Well As Decisions Of International Bodies Can Be Valid On The Russian Territory Only To The Point That They Do Not Restrict The Rights And Freedoms Of Our People

"… Today some political public associations are raising the issue of adopting a new Constitution.

"I want to answer straight off: I believe there is no need for this. Potential of the 1993 Constitution is far from being exhausted and I hope that pillars of our constitutional system, rights and freedoms will remain the foundation of strong values for the Russian society for decades to come.

"In the meantime, statements regarding changes to the Constitution have already been made. And I find it possible to express my view and propose a number of constitutional amendments for discussion, amendments that, in my opinion, are reasonable and important for the further development of Russia as a rule-of-law welfare state where citizens' freedoms and rights, human dignity and wellbeing constitute the highest value.

"Firstly, Russia can be and can remain Russia only as a sovereign state. Our nation's sovereignty must be unconditional. We have done a great deal to achieve this. We restored our state's unity. We have overcome the situation when certain powers in the government were essentially usurped by oligarch clans. Russia has returned to international politics as a country whose opinion cannot be ignored.

"We created powerful reserves, which multiplies our country's stability and capability to protect its citizens' social rights and the national economy from any attempts of foreign pressure.

"I truly believe that it is time to introduce certain changes to our country's main law, changes that will directly guarantee the priority of the Russian Constitution in our legal framework.

"What does it mean? It means literally the following: requirements of international law and treaties as well as decisions of international bodies can be valid on the Russian territory only to the point that they do not restrict the rights and freedoms of our people and citizens and do not contradict our Constitution.

"Second, I suggest formalizing at the constitutional level the obligatory requirements for those who hold positions of critical significance for national security and sovereignty. More precisely, the heads of the constituent entities, members of the Federation Council, State Duma deputies, the prime minister and his/her deputies, federal ministers, heads of federal agencies and judges should have no foreign citizenship or residence permit or any other document that allows them to live permanently in a foreign state.

"The goal and mission of state service is to serve the people, and those who enter this path must know that by doing this they inseparably connect their lives with Russia and the Russian people without any assumptions and allowances.

"Requirements must be even stricter for presidential candidates. I suggest formalizing a requirement under which presidential candidates must have had permanent residence in Russia for at least 25 years and no foreign citizenship or residence permit and not only during the election campaign but at any time before it too.

"I know that people are discussing the constitutional provision under which one person cannot hold the post of the President of the Russian Federation for two successive terms. I do not regard this as a matter of principle, but I nevertheless support and share this view."

Putin: I Suggest Changing The Procedure And Allowing The State Duma To Appoint The Prime Minister; This Will Increase The Role Of The State Duma As Well As The Independence Of The Prime Minister And Other Cabinet Members

"What is the situation like now? In accordance with articles 111 and 112 of the Russian Constitution, the President only receives the consent of the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister, and then appoints the head of the Cabinet, his deputies and all the ministers. I suggest changing the procedure and allowing the State Duma to appoint the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and then all deputy prime ministers and federal ministers at the Prime Minister's recommendation. At the same time the President will have to appoint them, so he will have no right to turn down the candidates approved by the Parliament.

"All of this means drastic changes to the political system. However, let me repeat, considering the maturity of our main political organizations and parties as well as the reputation of civil society, I believe these proposals are justified. This will increase the role and importance of the State Duma and parliamentary parties as well as the independence and responsibility of the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members and make cooperation between the representative and executive branches of government more effective and substantive."

Putin: Russia Must Remain A Strong Presidential Republic

"… Russia must remain a strong presidential republic. The president must undoubtedly retain the right to determine the Government's tasks and priorities, as well as the right to dismiss the prime minister, his deputies and federal ministers in case of improper execution of duties or due to loss of trust. The president also exercises direct command over the Armed Forces and the entire law enforcement system. In this regard, I believe another step is necessary to provide a greater balance between the branches of power.

"In this connection, point six: I propose that the president should appoint heads of all security agencies following consultations with the Federation Council. I believe this approach will make the work of security and law enforcement agencies more transparent and accountable to citizens…"

(Kremlin.ru, January 15, 2020; read the full transcript)

Russian Expert: A Full-Fledged US-Iran War Would Be Not So Beneficial To Russia As It May Seem

On January 10, Vz.ru published an article, titled "Who Will Benefit From The Conflict Between The US And Iran". Vz.ru wrote:

"… The market does not believe in a [possibility of a] large-scale war between the United States and Iran… However, the lowering of the intensity of the U.S.-Iran conflict does not really mean that it's over. The flames can rise up with renewed vigor at any moment…

"There are two possible scenarios for starting of a war... In the first case, Iran will provoke a war… In the second option, Trump's team may decide that a war is needed in order for Trump to be re-elected for a new term…

"A military campaign in Iran is the worst-case scenario. After all, Iran is able to block the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of all oil exports pass. 'If the Iran-US conflict escalates, the price of oil may well reach the psychological hundred [dollars a barrel], and the exchange rate of the ruble, yen and Swiss franc will rise next. Gold can bounce to a seven-year high of $ 1,650 or even more', said [Alexander] Kuptsikevich [lead financial analyst at FxPro].

"The ruble exchange rate is even more difficult to predict: it could increase its value up to 60 rubles for a dollar, and lower, but hardly lower than 50 rubles for a dollar, because the Russian Central Bank controls the situation, [the expert believes]. By the way, not only the dollar, but also the euro will fall, and the euro will fall much harder [than the dollar].

"However, a full-fledged war would actually be not so beneficial to Russia as it may seem. 'Despite the 'strong ruble', in this situation we would get a slowdown in the world economy [maybe] up to a recession, and a state of crisis in many European countries. This could hardly be called a winning combination,' concludes Kuptsikevich."

(Vz.ru, January 10, 2020)

The Influential Russian Blogger El-Murid Comments On The Ukrainian Airplane Shot Down In Iran: Not Only Iran Is Fast Becoming A Global Pariah, But Also A Kind Of A Regional Pirate Zone

"Frankly speaking, from the very beginning, there was little doubt that it was the Iranian air defense forces that shot down the ill-fated Boeing. Coincidences happen, but not that often, especially ones like this. On the other hand, cause-and-effect relationships rarely let you down. This is somewhat similar to the explosion in Magnitogorsk, where we are still being assured that it was just an ordinary 'gas discharge'.

"There we have exactly the same sequence of causes and effects that leads to the only possible conclusion -- an explosion, a shooting up of a minibus, an anti-terrorist operation in two areas of the city, an ISIS statement of responsibility, and officials' categorical denial of any incriminating evidence. After so many coincidences, there is no way you can reach any final conclusion other than that people were killed.

"The Iranian incident is no different -- any other version except for the destruction of the aircraft by the Iranian air defense, does not tally either with facts or logic or the laws of physics. And therefore it was easier to accept the inevitable which under the circumstances was probably the most rational [thing to do]. I’m not talking about the moral side; in politics, morality rarely matters.

"Now, however, there are quite reasonable questions about the consequences. Iran is a country with highly unpredictable policies. Its leadership's degree of sanity is unknown and seems to be extremely low. The degree of professionalism of its military is about the same. Therefore in case of any escalation the risks transport links with Iran (by air, sea, or land) instantly become unsustainable.

"Today, the air defense operated erroneously, tomorrow the coastal artillery will fire at an unidentified target passing by, then they will take down a suspicious convoy of vehicles on the road. There is no coordination between civilian and military services -- so say bye-bye. The Ukrainian Boeing took off just one hour later [than scheduled], and that was enough for the Iranian anti-aircraft gunners (who were unable to find it in the regular schedule) to mistake it for an enemy target. It did not occur to anyone to call the Tehran airport [control] tower to verify the schedule change -- and so military protocols kicked in.

"The world economy has long figured out the technical means to solve problems like this -- that is to raise insurance premium rates for any vehicles crossing the high risk zone; but then Iran will be under transport blockade for purely economic reasons as it will become extremely expensive to travel there whether by sea, air or land. For the same reason, it was decided to crush Somali pirates – insurance companies were raising premium rates, and when the trade passing through the pirate zone began yielding serious losses, it became cheaper to launch an international military operation that solved the problem.

"Not only Iran is fast becoming a global pariah, but also a kind of a regional pirate zone, where it is simply unprofitable to do business. And the sanctions which insurers can impose on the transport links with Iran will be steeper than all the rest combined. Apparently, Iran had to consider this factor as well, and thus the guilty plea that returned it to a relatively civilized framework and averted the risk of an 'insurance blockade.' Unfortunately, the risk still remains."

(El-murid.livejournal.com, January 11, 2020)

What Issues Were Discussed In The Putin-Merkel Meeting


(Source: Kremlin.ru)

On January 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met at the Kremlin. The leaders of the two countries discussed the situation in Syria, possible steps to resolve the military conflict in Libya, the construction of the "Nord Stream 2" gas pipeline, the escalation of tensions in the Middle East, Iran's nuclear program, and the implementation of the agreements reached during the Paris summit, held in Normandy Format. The meeting between Putin and Merkel lasted about 3.5 hours. The Russian daily Vedomosti gathered the main statements of the leaders of Germany and Russia:

Nord Stream 2

Putin said, that Russia can independently complete the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline without involving foreign companies, but the timetable for project completion has been delayed by several months. He expressed the hope that the project will be completed before the end of 2020, or in the first quarter of 2021.

In turn, Merkel considers it possible to build a gas pipeline, despite US sanctions. She also noted, that Berlin will continue to support the project's implementation. The Chancellor once again stated that Nord Stream 2 is primarily an economic project. "This is the right project, and the participating enterprises have repeatedly advocated its implementation," she said at a press conference that followed the meeting.

"Germany is convinced that Iran should not gain access to nuclear weapons, and therefore we will use all diplomatic means to preserve this agreement, which, of course, is not perfect," Merkel said.

On The Situation In Libya And Russian Mercenaries

"Unfortunately, hostilities are continuing there, terrorist activity grows, and the economy and social sphere, unfortunately, are degrading," said Putin. Earlier, on January 8, Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan called the parties to the Libyan conflict to a truce, which should start at midnight on January 12. Putin hopes that a truce will indeed be announced on time.

Events in Libya undermine security and stability not only in the region itself, "but also have a negative projection on Europe," Putin said, "I'm talking about illegal migration, smuggling, trade and the spread of weapons. It is important to put an end to the armed confrontation between the Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord, establish a ceasefire, and take measures to restore the political process. "

Commenting on Erdogan's words about the presence of more than 2,000 Wagner PMC mercenaries in Libya, Putin said: "If there are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian state and do not receive money from the Russian state."

Putin said, that Germany, in turn, intends to hold an international conference on Libya in Berlin. Putin noted, that Russia considers this initiative to be timely, but in order to achieve truly tangible results, it is necessary to ensure participation in the conference of those who are interested in helping Libya and preliminary coordination of conference decisions with all parties to the Libyan conflict. Merkel promised to comply with these conditions. The conference, she said, will be held under the auspices of the UN.

On The Situation In Syria

The Russian president said, that the situation in Syria is stabilizing and is gradually returning to a peaceful life. "Russia and Germany share the view that the conflict in Syria can finally be resolved exclusively by political means. The main thing is that Syrian citizens will have an opportunity to determine the future of their country independently," said the Russian president.

Putin stated that in order to implement this approach, the Syrian Constitutional Committee was created, which has already held two meetings in Geneva, where a Constitutional Commission was formed, which will develop the constitutional foundations of Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iran, for their part, will continue to support this work, but it is necessary to unite the world community to restore Syria and ensure the safe return of refugees. Putin also said: "At the same time, any assistance to Syria should be provided in agreement with the legitimate authorities and extend to all affected territories, without any preconditions".

Putin told reporters, that the situation in Syria was also discussed during the talks between Putin and Merkel. According to the Russian president, he told the chancellor about his New Year’s visit to Damascus and about negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Implementation Of The Minsk Agreements

Putin called on the Ukrainian authorities to begin implementing measures to resolve the situation in the south-east of the country in accordance with the Minsk agreements. According to him, during negotiations with Merkel, "they spoke in detail about the settlement of the intra-Ukrainian crisis."

Both leaders consider the Minsk agreements to be the sole basis for normalizing the situation. "It is important that the specific tasks set during our recent meetings in the Normandy format will be implemented," Putin said. The Russian president also added that it is necessary to define Donbass' special status in Ukraine's constitution

For her part, Merkel called the Normandy format meeting in December in Paris "partially successful." "We will continue to work at the next summit to achieve further progress in accordance with the Minsk agreements," she concluded.

About Iran's Nuclear Program

Putin and Merkel also discussed the situation surrounding the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran’s nuclear program. According to the Russian leader, this issue is "extremely important not only for the region, but for the whole world."

Putin recalled that after the United States abandoned this plan, the Iranian partners announced the suspension of their voluntary commitments under the JCPOA. "Russia and Germany strongly support the further implementation of the joint plan," the Russian president said.

(Vedomosti.ru, January 11, 2020)

News In Brief

Putin: 20 Year Commemorative Album

  • Putin: 20 years (20.kremlin.ru/en) is an album of archival photographs and video footage, mainly by Vladimir Putin's personal photographers and camera team. The album features selected events over a period of the past 20 years that Vladimir Putin has served as President and Prime Minister. (Kremlin.ru, January 13, 2020; read the full statement)

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